Trichothecenes are a group of sesquiterpenes produced by various Fusarium species like F. graminearum, F. sporotrichioides, F. poae or F. equiseti. The most important structural features causing the biological activities of trichothecenes are: the 12,13-epoxy ring, the presence of hydroxyl or acetyl groups at appropriate positions on the trichothecene nucleus and the structure and position of the side-chain. They are produced on many different grains like wheat, oats or maize.
This group of structurally related mycotoxins has a strong impact on the health of animals and humans due to their immunosuppressive effects. Type A trichothecenes (e.g. T-2 toxin, HT-2 toxin, Diacetoxyscirpenol) are of special interest because they are even more toxic than the related type B trichothecenes (e.g. Deoxynivalenol, Nivalenol, 3- and 15-Acetyldeoxynivalenol). Their major effects – related to their concentration in the commodity – are reduced feed uptake, vomiting and immuno-suppression.
Only few countries have recommended levels for these mycotoxins in food and animal feed but it is often tested for to prevent them from entering the food chain and to prevent losses in animal production.
Epoxitrichothecenes are a variation of the above, and were once explored for military use in east Germany, and possibly the whole Soviet bloc. There is no feasable treatment once symptoms of epoxithichothecene poisoning set in, though the effects can subside without leaving any permanent damage.
The first symptoms exibited are general discomfort, dry eyes, and drowsiness. A red rash appears shortly, starting in blotches and swiftly covering the entire body. Symptoms of a classic hemorrhagic fever set in, which include blood-red eyes, vomiting/urinating of blood, nosebleed, and patches of skin ranging from quarter- to A4-sheet size begin to bleed sponateously. Brain function is also impaired, with the victim progressing from slurred speech to classic 'fever dreams' to various psychological conditions from Multiple Personality Disorder to Paranoia. The victim succumbs to loss of blood, fever, or systemic hyperinfection brought on by the weakened immune system, whichever comes first.
If the patient survives, he will recover from most of the symptoms, although patches of skin will still bleed spontaneously for short periods of time. His immune system remains weakened, and his mental faculties will be severely damaged.
The plans for use as a large-scale bioweapon were dropped, as the relevant Epoxitrichothecenes degrade very quickly under UV light and heat, as well as chlorine exposure, making them useless for open attacks and the poisoning of water supplies.